ndividuals can only do so much amid corporate environmental destruction
For many, Earth Day is an annual day of reflection on the health of our planet. But in 2019, each and every day demands a reflection on the precarious and escalating effects of climate change. With weather patterns transforming and global sea levels rising dramatically, one constant in our lives is the looming threat of the heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere.
Flooding due to melting ice caps, ocean acidification, intense heat waves and extinction of coral reefs and other ecosystems are just some of the major threats our and future generations face.
Smothered by the dangers of a warming world, we ponder, pace and fret, racking our brains for sustainable solutions. We keep a wary eye on the length of our showers, electricity use and car mileage, desperately trying to reduce our carbon footprint in our own small ways, which we should. Being conservative with our energy usage is a pertinent skill, and one that we will undeniably require in the future when our finite fossil fuel reserves have been depleted. In the 20th century, the scientific community came to a consensus about anthropogenic climate change. But institutional complacency and outright denial have exacerbated the problem such that we now require emergency grand-scale action to do damage control.
Our inability to shed our dependence on environmentally unsound practices is leading us toward ecological catastrophe. Instead of adopting renewable sources, giant fossil fuel companies –– such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP –– continue to burn predominantly coal, oil and natural gas to heat our homes and power our cars. Since 1900, 80% of total energy consumption has been derived from fossil fuels in the U.S., one of the largest contributors to global carbon emissions.
The commodification of nonrenewable sources, which first skyrocketed during the Industrial Revolution, has driven major energy markets ever since. Capitalism allows the exploitation of resources like fossil fuels, and industries have, time and time again, chosen profits over the health of the environment. Despite the climate change data pooled by environmental scientists, fossil fuel industries have been able to enrich themselves despite a rapidly changing climate.
It is still important, of course, to turn off the tap water, cut the plastic use and be held accountable for our habits. We should refrain from being environmentally toxic at an individual level. Performing these small actions raises consciousness of climate change and perhaps alleviates one’s misplaced personal guilt. But individual consumers alone can’t make the radical changes needed to improve atmospheric and ecological conditions. To even attempt to halt the rate at which climate change is progressing, we need sweeping policy reform and large-scale collective transitions to renewable energy, such as San Francisco’s initiative to have all commercial buildings use 100% renewable energy by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050.
We’re already past the point of irreversible climate change. The mitigation steps we take now will determine to what extent the earth as we know it can recover or survive.